With Elliott solid in net, Badgers again a threat

Minnesota also landed a verbal commitment from Hill-Murray forward Nick Larson.

by Chris Lempesis

For most of the season, Wisconsin goalie Brian Elliott was perhaps the nation’s best collegiate goalie, posting an 18-2-2 record with his name mentioned first and loudest in any Hobey Baker conversation.

Then came a left-leg injury in practice in mid-January which caused Elliott to miss eight games.

He struggled to play consistently coming back from the injury, posting a 2-2-1 mark to close the regular season, with some considerably subpar performances such as allowing six goals on just 22 shots against Minnesota State on Feb. 24.

But as up and down as Elliott has been in his return, one thing has remained consistent throughout: Elliott plays well against the Gophers.

That was evident again Saturday as Elliott stopped all 26 Minnesota shots in the Badgers’ 4-0 win in the third-place game of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Final Five, played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“He’s a good goaltender and I don’t think he had too tough of a game today,” coach Don Lucia said. “But like any good goaltender, you make the saves you should.”

While that statement might be true considering Minnesota’s less-than-stellar effort Saturday, Elliott has dominated the Gophers outside of Saturday’s game as well.

He’s kept the Gophers scoreless the past 124 minutes he’s been in net against them, including two shutouts in a row. In three games against Minnesota this season, he’s allowed just three goals.

And Elliott seems to be picking his play back up to where it was before.

In the Badgers’ four playoff games, Elliott has a 3-1 record, including two shutouts. In those four games, he’s allowed a mere five goals – four of which came in Wisconsin’s 4-3 loss to eventual WCHA Tournament champion North Dakota in the semifinals Friday afternoon.

But on Saturday, Elliott wouldn’t go as far to say he’s back to his old self.

“I don’t know – it’s a tough question,” Elliott said. “I don’t know even know what ‘back’ is. Like, you can’t really describe your play before or after an injury. It’s tough to say, but I have the confidence in myself and in my teammates that we can bring that kind of game (like the one against the Gophers) every night.”

Larson verbally commits

Nick Larson, a third-team All-Metro forward for Hill-Murray School in Maplewood, has verbally committed to play for the Gophers for the 2008-2009 season, Larson said Monday.

A junior at Hill-Murray and a native of Stillwater, Larson said he visited the University Tuesday and then called coach Don Lucia on Thursday afternoon to inform him of his decision.

Larson said he also was considering Wisconsin, Boston College and Boston University.

“It was a fun experience,” Larson said of the recruiting experience. “But after a while, it kind of gets to a point where you just kind of want to get it done with, (and) move on.”

Larson said he’s been told he’s going to be expected to be a scorer – he had 41 goals and 38 assists for the Pioneers this season – but that he will have to add 15 to 20 pounds to his 6-foot, 2-inch, 185-pound frame.

Attendance record set

Attendance at the Final Five was better than ever this year.

A record 87,579 fans attended the five games at the Xcel Energy Center, breaking the old record of 82,564 set in 2004.

Four of the five individual games this year had record crowds as well.

Thursday night’s game between St. Cloud State and Duluth (16,312), Friday afternoon’s Wisconsin vs. North Dakota game (16,468), Friday night’s Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State game (19,353) and Saturday afternoon’s Minnesota vs. Wisconsin third place game (16,164) all set Final Five records for games played on those days and times.

In addition, the 19,353-member crowd for the Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State game set an all-time single-game attendance record for the Final Five.

Interestingly, the only game to not set any sort of record was the championship game between North Dakota and St. Cloud State on Saturday night.

Still, a crowd of 19,282 was on hand to watch the Sioux defeat the Huskies 5-3 to win the title.